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How The Budget Deal Affects The Affordable Care Act

So how does this mammoth budget-cutting deal, with its congressional “supercommittee” affect health reform?

Good question, because lots of people in Washington are asking it too.

More specific answers will become clearer in the next few weeks, but here’s a first version of the road map to both the policy and the politics.

First, understand there are two different processes – and each, separately, aims at cutting more than $1 trillion over the next decade.

The one that you’ve probably heard most about is the “supercommittee” of 12 members of Congress. They are supposed to identify savings by Thanksgiving. Entitlements – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and aspects of the Affordable Care Act – are part of their turf. So are taxes and revenue – at least in theory. It’s not so clear that the Republicans see it that way given the public statements of Congressional leaders.

If they agree on some kind of grand deal by Thanksgiving, Congress has to take it or leave it by the end of December, eliminating the usual congressional dilly-dallying. (It looks like dilly-dallying to the casual observer or much of the public, but remember that all that arcane, tedious process IS policy in Congress. If you slow something down, make it go through hoops, amend it, hold it up, etc., it doesn’t become law. That may be good or, depending on your point of view, bad politics.)

If Congress takes any recommendations that the supercommittee agrees on, that’s the law. If the committee fails, or Congress rejects it, then the “trigger” gets pulled. The official name is “sequestration.” That’s a fancy name for automatic cuts – 2 percent across-the-board cuts in Medicare, for instance, affecting all health care providers, doctors, hospitals, etc. It won’t affect beneficiaries – at least not directly.

Medicaid is not subject to the trigger. Neither, according to the preliminary interpretations I’ve received from analysts and congressional staff, are the big, key subsidies in the health care reform law – the Medicaid expansion and the subsidies that will help low-income and middle-income people afford health care in the new state exchanges.

Other parts of the health reform law are, however, subject to automatic cuts. Among them: Cost-sharing subsidies for low-income people. This isn’t the help paying the premium; this is the help with the co-pays when people do get care. But the payments are made to health plans, not directly to beneficiaries so it won’t have the direct impact of discouraging care. It may affect how health plans make decisions about what markets to participate in. Gary Claxton and Larry Levitt at Kaiser Family Foundation explain here.

Also, the supercommittee could have a partial deal – meaning there’s still a trigger, but a smaller one. Maybe they won’t reach agreement on $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in savings, which would avoid the trigger. But maybe they could agree on, say, $500 billion. That means a trigger wouldn’t have to go as deep because some of the savings would already be identified.

To recap – before we go on to the second stage of this process: The “super-committee” can do whatever it wants to health care, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. – if it can agree, if it can get the rest of Congress to agree and if the president doesn’t veto it.

Will the Democratic Senate and the Obama White House agree to cuts that eviscerate health reform? Not likely. In fact, the Democrats “won” on very few aspects of the budget/debt deal. Walling off Medicaid and key parts of the health coverage expansion were two of the “wins.” That’s a bright line worth paying attention to as this moves forward.

Does that mean other health-reform related spending will be untouched? Given how many moving parts there are to any spending deal, and the fact that defense and tax policy are also part of the mix, chances are it will be affected. But expect to see that bright line remain visible – maybe not quite as bright, but visible. (The CLASS Act, the voluntary long-term care program created under health reform, is a different story; it’s quite vulnerable.)

The second part is the annual appropriations process. The budget deal provides for cuts – real cuts in spending, not just slowing the rate of growth. Health programs (aspects of the health reform legislation touching on exchange creation, prevention, community clinics, etc., and just about everything else at the Department of Health and Human Services – the FDA, NIH, CDC, etc. – will be subject to these cuts. But this isn’t an across the board process, it’s a line-by-line, or at least category/agency-by-category/agency, process. And there is some horse trading.

It’s safe to say that the Republicans will try to cut discretionary portions of the new health law. That’s not a new political dynamic, it doesn’t arise out of the debt ceiling or the Wall Street woes. It’s what we’ve seen since last fall’s elections and the repeal/defund fights of the past few months. And House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has publicly tried to insert health care into any potential deal. So expect to see more Republican push to cut, and continued Democratic push back. Will health spending emerge unscathed? It’s too soon to know but, given the amount of savings Congress needs to find –both in this budget deal and in the perennial quest to fund the “doc fix” payments – some cuts are clearly possible. Some of it may affect aspects of exchange establishment, regulation, prevention, public health, etc. But it’s hard to see the Democrats allowing cuts so deep that they basically constitute a side door to repeal.

One further twist – some Republicans are calling for a delay in health reform implementation to save money.”Delay” may sound better to an ambivalent public worried about spending than “repeal.” What’s delayed (if anything), how it’s delayed, how long it’s delayed, and what stopgaps are created in the meantime could have an impact on how many people get covered in 2014.

Assorted committees and government agencies are still examining the new budget law and how it will affect … everything. So the perspective I’ve outlined here – and I’m writing amid all the market turbulence – may change as the economic and political climates change. But the lines in the sand around the trigger – health reform, Medicaid and Social Security – tell us something about where the White House will come down.

By: Joanne Kenen, Association of Health Care Journalists, August 10, 2011

August 11, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Insurance Companies, Journalists, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Public Health, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Fight Will Continue: Democrats Will Lose Now But They Can Win Later

Democrats are going to lose this one. The first stage of the emerging deal doesn’t include revenue, doesn’t include stimulus, and lets Republicans pocket a trillion dollars or more in cuts without offering anything to Democrats in return.

The second stage convenes a congressional “Supercommittee” to recommend up to $2 trillion in further cuts, and if their plan doesn’t pass Congress, there’s an enforcement mechanism that begins making automatic, across-the-board cuts to almost all categories of spending. So heads Democrats lose, tails Republicans win.

It’s difficult to see how it could have ended otherwise. Virtually no Democrats are willing to go past Aug. 2 without raising the debt ceiling. Plenty of Republicans are prepared to blow through the deadline. That’s not a dynamic that lends itself to a deal. That’s a dynamic that lends itself to a ransom.

But Democrats will have their turn. On Dec. 31, 2012, three weeks before the end of President Barack Obama’s current term in office, the Bush tax cuts expire. Income tax rates will return to their Clinton-era levels. That amounts to a $3.6 trillion tax increase over 10 years, three or four times the $800 billion to $1.2 trillion in revenue increases that Obama and Speaker John Boehner were kicking around. And all Democrats need to do to secure that deal is…nothing.

This scenario is the inverse of the current debt-ceiling debate, in which inaction will lead to an outcome — a government default — that Democrats can’t stomach and Republicans think they can. There is only one thing that could stand in the way of Democrats passing significant new revenues on the last day of 2012: the Obama administration.

Republicans — and even some Democrats — think that the Obama administration lives to collect revenue. The truth is closer to the opposite. Senior administration aides view the expiration of the Bush tax cuts as less of an opportunity than a chore. About four-fifths of the cuts go to households making less than $250,000 a year, and they don’t want to raise taxes on those folks. They don’t like the politics of the issue, either. It’s an article of faith among Democratic strategists that debates on taxes inevitably favor Republicans, allowing Democrats to be hammered from the right and undermined from the left. White House aides would rather focus on “win the future” issues like infrastructure, education and energy.

The White House’s strategy in the debt-ceiling negotiations has reflected its ambivalence, with Obama trying to extract either as much revenue as Republicans would allow or as little as Democrats would accept. Obama even offered Boehner a deal in which the Bush tax cuts would be extended right now, so Republicans wouldn’t have to fear a subsequent negotiation in which they lacked leverage. Boehner rejected that deal and, in doing, might have saved the safety net.

But the Obama administration doesn’t want to take its second chance. They argue that the economy will still be recovering in 2013, and so it’s not an ideal time for a large tax increase. True. But what happens in 2012 is not simply setting tax policy for 2013. It’s setting tax policy for decades to come.

Health costs are rising and the Baby Boomers are retiring. If taxes don’t rise, none of these commitments are sustainable. And Republicans, in normal times, are perfectly capable of blocking any and all attempts to raise taxes. For Democrats, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts presents a unique opportunity in which GOP intransigence will mean more new revenues rather than no new revenues.

The alternative has been on clear display in recent months. Republicans can’t necessarily sell the country on big cuts in federal programs, but they can make them necessary. All they need to do is hold the line aganst taxes, allow deficits will continue to mount, and then use forcing events like the debt ceiling or the budget to demand huge spending cuts. A world in which the two parties can’t agree on tax increases but can agree on spending cuts is one in which the government eventually shrinks dramatically. Republicans understand this. Do Democrats?

A year ago, I was less concerned about the Bush tax cuts. I assumed, as did many in Washington, that the Republicans’ antipathy to taxes was a negotiating stance. Eventually, we would strike a “grand bargain” that would reduce spending and raise revenue substantially. The past few months have proved me wrong.

Republicans have shown, that they will block any and all tax increases, no matter what incentives they are offered in return and no matter how dire the consequences of their refusal. Next year’s deadline offers Democrats their only chance to negotiate from a superior strategic position. Republicans will still be able to refuse to raise taxes. But if they do, it won’t matter. The only way they can succeed in keeping taxes from rising is if the Obama administration and the Democrats stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them to extend the Bush tax cuts.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, July 31, 2011

August 1, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Health Care Costs, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

With Deal Announced, The White House Makes It’s Case

So the final deal has been announced, pending approval by the House, and one of the key new pieces of the compromise is that the Congressional committee tasked with coming up with a second round of spending cuts in exchange for the later debt ceiling hike would be forced to act by the new “trigger.” In the event that the committee deadlocks, that trigger would force an even division of non-defense and defense cuts, and since the latter is anathema to Republicans, they would not have any incentive to deliberately sabotage the committee in order to force the deep entitlements cuts they want.

The White House’s argument is that even if the deal is far short of what liberals hoped for, Republicans have effectively surrendered the amount of leverage they were expected to have over entitlements cuts. Now that the committee — which is half Republicans and Democrats — will all but certainly advance a package of cuts in exchange for the later debt ceiling hike, the argument is that Democrats can live to fight it out another day on entitlements.

The White House is also arguing that the deal sets the stage for a re-litigation of the tax cut fight, and it’s now distributing talking points to outside allies that are heavily devoted to making that case on entitlement and taxes, an argument that seems designed to quiet angst and criticism among liberals:

* Expedited Process for Balanced Deficit Reduction: Puts in place a longer term process for additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction through a committee structure that will put everything on the table, including tax and entitlement reform. To prevent either side from using procedural tricks to prevent Congress from acting, the committee’s recommendations will receive fast track authority, which means they can’t be amended or filibustered.

* Sets the Stage for a Balanced Package Including Revenues: The American people and a growing number of Republicans agree that any deficit reduction package must be balanced and included revenue.

* Even Speaker Boehner was open to a deal with $800 billion in revenues, and nearly 20 GOP senators were supportive of the Gang of 6 framework, which had more than $2 trillion in revenue.

* If the Committee does not succeed in meaningful balanced deficit reduction with revenue-raising tax reform on the most well-off by the end of 2012, the President can use his veto pen to raise nearly $1 trillion from the most well-off by vetoing any extension of the Bush high income tax cuts.

By;: Greg Sargent, Washington Post-The Plum Line, July 31, 2011

August 1, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Crazy To Insane: Conservatives Still Want More In Debt Ceiling Deal

Over on the progressive side of politics, they’re nursing their wounds and drowning their sorrows as details of the deal to increase the debt ceiling emerge. They feel like they lost to a Republican party that dug in and used the debt ceiling to achieve their goal of dramatically shrinking government spending and solving the deficit problem without raising a single penny in new revenue.

So they might be surprised to know that conservatives don’t think they won, either. The right, despite apparently negotiating Obama into a corner that pits him against large parts of his base, still isn’t satisfied.

“While this deal is moving in the right direction rhetorically thanks to pressure from conservatives, it still falls well short of the standards we have consistently laid out,” wrote the Heritage Action’s Michael Needham.

The group, a sister organization to the Heritage Foundation, says the upfront cuts included in the reported deal are “insufficient” and the super committee in charge of creating the next round of deficit reduction is a bad idea as reported.

“This deal highlights how dysfunctional Washington has become and we will continue to oppose it as insufficient to the task at hand,” Needham wrote.

On TV Sunday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he expected a large number of conservatives to share Heritage’s view.

“It’s a $3 trillion package that will allow $7 trillion to be added to the debt in the next decade,” Graham said, dismissively. “So how much celebrating are you going to do?”

Graham said he expected around half of the House GOP caucus to vote against the deal. It doesn’t have his vote yet, either.

One of the patron saints of those hardcore conservative Republicans in the House, blogger Erick Erickson, is also underwhelmed by the deal (it’s not the first time.)

Despite the fact that progressives and Democrats are publicly lamenting the reported deal as indicative of the effect of rhetoric like Erickson’s has had on Washington, Erickson sounds as if he feels as betrayed as some on the left.

“What we know about the pending deal is that the Democrats and Republicans are agreeing to a Deficit Commission,” Erickson wrote Sunday. “Despite the media spin — and the spin of some Republican sycophants — the deficit commission, which will be a super committee of the Congress, will have the power to come up with new tax revenue.”

By: Evan McMorris-Santero, Talking Points Memo, July 31, 2011

August 1, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Lawmakers, Media, Politics, President Obama, Press, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Circular Firing Squad: Boehner Bill Is Showdown Between House Republican Purists And Realists

The run-up to the vote expected Thursday on House Speaker John A. Boehner’s proposal to provide a short-term increase in the national debt limit is quickly turning into a time of clarity for the chamber’s Republicans.

If GOP leaders are unable to muster enough support to get the plan out of the House, the only measure left would be a Democratic proposal by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), and voting with Reid is not a concession many House Republicans are willing to make.

“There’s only three choices,” said Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), a close Boehner ally. “One is to vote for Senator Reid’s plan. One is to default. And one choice is the Boehner bill. It should be pretty self-evident what the best choice is to someone who’s a Republican.”

Increasingly, the vote on Boehner’s proposal is shaping up not as a test of wills between moderates and conservatives, but as a face-off between political purists who scorn the bill and realists who prefer it to the alternative.

“We came here to reduce the size of government and reduce spending, and this bill, I think, begins to accomplish that goal,” said Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.), who decided Wednesday that he will vote for the measure. “It’s by no means perfect. But it’s the best bill we have.”

At a closed-door meeting for House Republicans on Wednesday, where leaders tried to rally support for the measure, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) read from a blog post by conservative commentator Bill Kristol. “To vote against Boehner is to choose to support Barack Obama,” Kristol wrote.

But it is not an easy sale for a party that won back control of the House last year on promises to vote without regard to political consequences.

Boehner’s bill would postpone major entitlement reform and other deep cuts by passing such decisions to a new committee that would report its recommendations by year’s end. The proposal also would not require Congress to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, but only that it vote on one.

Some Republicans have vowed that they will not raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

Others preferred a conservative bill dubbed “cut, cap and balance” that passed the House this month but was killed in the Senate. It would have required Congress to vote to send the amendment to the states for ratification.

“The credit rating agencies have been clear that no matter what happens with the debt limit, the U.S. will lose its AAA credit rating unless we produce a credible plan to reduce the debt by trillions of dollars,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), chairman of the Republican Study Committee. The group comprises more than 170 House conservatives. “Cut, cap and balance is the only plan on the table that meets this standard,” he said.

House leaders expressed cautious optimism Wednesday that they were convincing members that the plan advanced by Boehner (R-Ohio) is the best that Republicans can hope to get.

It would avert a government default, take a bite out of the deficit and require Congress to adopt $1.8 trillion in additional cuts before the debt ceiling could be raised again next year.

Freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), whose district in Staten Island and Brooklyn is home to many Wall Street professionals, said he decided Wednesday that he will vote for the bill after he was convinced that its failure would hand Democrats control of the debate.

“I don’t think it’s perfect. I don’t think it’s close to perfect. I don’t think it’s in the realm of what I expected to get,” he said.

But, Grimm said, it would require deep spending reductions over the coming years. “That’s historic. And that’s a step in the right direction.”

The public infighting has served to rally some Republicans. Behind closed doors, members erupted Wednesday over an e-mail that a staff member of Jordan’s Republican Study Committee sent to outside conservative groups. It listed undecided members who could be pressured to vote against the Boehner plan.

“I think it’s offensive when a group that you’re a part of uses your bullets to shoot you,” said Rep. Bill Flores (Tex.). “So I have a problem with it.”

Those entreaties did not quiet conservatives who are urging that the plan be abandoned: On Wednesday, the head of the group Tea Party Nation accused Boehner of surrendering to Washington’s status quo and called for him to be replaced.

The House proposal was panned at a small rally held at the Capitol by the Tea Party Express and the American Grassroots Coalition. The GOP that rode tea party energy and activism is hoping that some of it members can look past that relationship.

“Some people are new here and this is part of the learning curve,” LaTourette said. “At times you have to say ‘no’ to people you represent who are yelling at you, if you’ve reached the conclusion that it’s in the best interests of the country.”

By: Rosalind Helderman and Felicia Sonmez with Contribution by David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post Politics, July 27, 2011

July 28, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government Shut Down, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Revolution, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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